Trump re-election would put significant ‘stress’ on Canada-U.S relations

Former American Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman joined the Expert Series podcast to discuss the status and health of the Canada-U.S relationship, the 2024 election, and the potential consequences of a second Trump presidency for bilateral relations. This interview was recorded on February 29th, 2024.

How would you assess the health of the Canada-U.S. relationship?

I would say, we’re in very good shape. Biden and Trudeau have held various meetings together, including the President’s visit to Ottawa. Think about the values that the Biden administration holds near and dear, in terms of multilateral relationships and promoting liberal democracy, rights, and values with its allies. Our two countries are deeply aligned. Trade is strong, at or near record levels, and the implementation of USMCA is going quite well.

Overall, we are in really good shape today. Now, that’s not to say that we’ll always be in that place, and that’s my concern. If Donald Trump becomes president again, our relationship will be under significant stress. While the Canadian government has no impact on who becomes president of the United States, it does need to prepare, as we often do with all our allies worldwide. For Canada, if your most important ally, trading partner, and your only neighbour elects a more authoritarian, isolationist president, it will be a more extreme version of the Donald Trump we saw in version 1.0.

How Can the Canadian government navigate a second Trump presidency?

If I were Canada or another ally, I would prepare for a potential Trump presidency in two ways. First, by looking at the policies, and attempted policies of his first administration. Secondly, by observing what he says he will do in a second administration and taking it at face value. Listen to what he has said and look at what he’s already done.

Let’s rewind the clock just a little – he almost immediately instituted a travel ban on Muslims entering the United States, which caused incredible disruption. He called for a wall between the United States and Mexico. He put tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel, justifying it on the basis of national security, to squeeze you on an outcome that he wanted during negotiations for the new NAFTA deal.

He withheld personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic even though you are right next door, and even though many of the components come from Canada. He withheld the first round of vaccines. He even threatened to put troops on the border. You watched his behaviour at the G7 summit, trashing the Prime Minister, and basically tearing up the deal they were participating in.

He wants to put full tariffs on all imports into the United States. We should take that very seriously. He has said that if NATO allies don’t put up the 2%, that they owe, then he’ll basically invite Russia to attack them, which is nonsense. But take his words seriously. He’s talking about rounding up millions of Americans, deporting them, and creating an entire police force devoted to this. He’s talked about retribution against media, and essentially whoever he deems to have been against him in his first presidency. This will have an incredible impact on Canada, your military, and your commerce. Environmental policies, which are important to Canada, and your neighbour, will not be important in a second Trump administration. We will roll that back significantly in the next administration.

So, while the Canada-U.S relationship is in a good place, I fear that it could be in a dark place very quickly under a Trump administration. Our democracy and the way we operate within our country will be under significant threat. All the relationships that we have with our allies will also be threatened, not just Canada.

Untold amounts of money have been spent trying to understand the MAGA movement and why it is seemingly in favour of everything Trump is proposing. Some think it has to do with the economy, but that doesn’t hold up, given the very strong economic conditions that the U.S currently has, especially relative to the rest of the world. Real GDP and wage gains have been high.

Breaking a cult is a hard thing to do. It is much easier to fool somebody than to convince them they’ve been fooled. We’re in a difficult spot in the United States right now. This is real. In his first administration, when he said and did things, I think people thought it was fodder for late-night comedy, but it is Serious stuff.

What are the repercussions of Canada failing to meet 2% NATO spending?

I went to the Harper government and asked for the 2% commitment to be upheld. It’s my understanding that subsequent ambassadors have done the same, Republican or Democrat. The issue is you join a club, any club, and the club has certain criteria for its membership, and criteria for membership is set by the club, and the members themselves.

Donald Trump has made it very clear how he feels about countries not meeting that obligation. Additionally, if we do not get this funding through for Ukraine, and Ukraine falls or loses substantial territory, the threat to the rest of Europe is significant. NATO members, maybe not NATO as an organization, but NATO members may be asked to do even more than what they’ve done to build up their defences and protect the front line.

Russia is moving closer and closer to that front line of NATO and you’re hearing language from the French President, and others, signifying a deep concern about the path we are on. I am deeply concerned from the U.S perspective that we are not funding Ukraine at a level that we should. It is the least expensive option because in the longer term, we’ll have to deal with more significant consequences of Russia’s invasion.

Can the United States recover from the potential negative repercussions of a second Trump term?

I hope so – it’s a test no doubt. The January 6th insurrection wasn’t just a riot at the Capitol, but rather, an attempt to circumvent the entire electoral process. If not for just a few people, it may have worked, and Donald Trump might still be President.

So, we’re being tested now. We are being tested in the court system, with the Supreme Court, and the trials taking place – 91 counts against him for indictments. We are being tested by his followers. I have great faith in my country. I have a deep belief in its institutions. But there is no doubt in my mind that if he is re-elected president, we will be tested to the most significant degree in my lifetime.

The United States is incredibly fortunate to have Canada as our neighbour, friend, ally, and trading partner. We benefit quite a bit from this relationship. This next year in politics may make Canadians question whether that’s true. Let’s not get too caught up in the political rhetoric, and let’s hope that governing is as stable as how we began this conversation.

We have an incredible alliance, but most importantly, we’re family. Over a million Americans live in Canada, and many Canadians live in the U.S. We must preserve and protect this relationship, even amidst a looming dark period. Many Americans in Canada have the right to vote in the U.S election. In 2016, Donald Trump won the state of Michigan by about 10,000 votes, resulting in an electoral college loss for Hillary Clinton.

He won the entire presidency by less than 100,000 votes – there are more Americans in Canada than that. It’s easy to vote. Americans living in Canada can participate directly in this election. Americans living in Canada can and maybe will be the deciding factor in the election.

This election is going to be down to the wire. Even though 150 million people will vote, very few will be the deciding factor. It will be a handful of states and ten or so counties. Less than a few hundred thousand people will decide who will lead the U.S. Americans living abroad can very much be a part of that.

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